By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 3 May: The by-election to the Salt Legislative Assembly seat of Almora district has sent out several political messages. BJP candidate Mahesh Jeena’s victory, on the one hand, comes as a matter of great personal relief for Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, who has taken over only recently and this was his first political test. On the other hand, there is a strong message for the Congress party, too, which witnessed heavy infighting during the poll campaign. Generally, bypolls, especially those to the assembly in states left with a year or even less term of the assembly don’t assume much political significance. Also, in such conditions, ruling parties generally hold a slight edge over the opposition parties. Hence, the victory of BJP candidate Mahesh Jeena in Salt shouldn’t, by itself, be a matter of surprise for the political analysts. BJP candidate Mahesh Jeena was contesting the Salt seat which had fallen vacant due to the untimely death of his brother, Surendra Singh Jeena, who lost his life to Corona infection some months ago. Hence, some sympathy towards him was to be expected.
Late Surendra Singh Jeena was a very popular face of the party in district Almora and had won three back to back polls. However, the last time he had won his seat by a relatively narrow margin of 3,000 votes against Ganga Pancholi of Congress, someone considered to be a protégé of stalwart Congress leader Harish Rawat. This time, however, her candidature became a matter of personal prestige for Harish Rawat, who managed to secure the ticket for her despite strong lobbying by his once close confidante and now strong political opponent within the Congress party, Ranjeet Rawat. Ranjeet Rawat too had won the Salt seat in the past but the demography and geographic profile of the constituency has changed since due to delimitation and he shifted base to Ramnagar in Nainital.
However, this time, being at loggerheads with his one time political mentor Harish Rawat, he was lobbying for the party ticket for his son Vikram Rawat. Sources claim that Ranjeet Rawat played a significant role in increasing the margin of defeat for Ganga Pancholi. She had lost the last assembly election by 3,000 votes and has now lost the bypoll by almost 4,700 votes. The defeat is being seen as a personal setback for Harish Rawat, who had opposed the candidature of Vikram Rawat and ensured repeat of the party ticket to Ganga Pancholi. However, he could not ensure her win. BJP’s Mahesh Jeena was not even an active politician and fought and won the election by a comfortable margin due to a united fight and better election management by the BJP. The campaign saw rallies by several big political leaders of the BJP including Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, BJP State President Madan Kaushik and several ministers. Harish Rawat did not find much time to campaign due to Corona infection but still his stature, by itself, could have ensured a different result had the party been united. It is relevant to point out here that Harish Rawat, a national stature Congress leader, belongs to Almora district but has not achieved much political success in his home district. With two losses, it seems that Ganga Pancholi has come to an abrupt end of her political ambitions but also Harish Rawat’s own reputation of being a winner for the party has taken another beating. In wanting to teach his former close confidante a tough lesson, he might have learnt a lesson or two from the outcome of the bypoll.
That the Congress party, which is rapidly losing its popularity as well as its political space rapidly in the country, could not unite even for one bypoll in Uttarakhand does not bode well for it since the assembly elections are due in Uttarakhand in less than a year. This result has weakened the morale of the party which aims to wrest power back from the BJP at least in Uttarakhand in next year’s assembly elections. Uttarakhand is one of the few remaining states where the Congress party still has a strong booth level base and remains the most serious contender to power against the formidable BJP.
As far as Salt is concerned, Mahesh Jeena barely has a few months to prove himself as an MLA and perform. Though bypolls are no litmus test of popularity for a chief minister, the win does boost the morale of the new CM Tirath Singh Rawat, who too does not have much time left to prove his mettle. In Corona times, it is not an easy task though. Fortunately for him, the sympathy factor combined with Congress infighting proved more powerful than any possible anti-incumbency against the ruling party.